Beating the drum
Sidney Holt’s book Save the Whale! Memoirs of a whale hugger may not yet be a best seller (it will be) but it encourages me to believe that we (the whales) will win. Win what? The privilege of spending the next generation, hundreds, thousands of years swimming around in a too warm ocean, deprived of sustenance, lonely for life? In my darker moments that just about sums up how I feel about the outcome of IWC66 and what lies ahead. I can’t say this out loud, of course, it would depress others as well as myself. We must press on.
The most encouraging thing about this meeting was the presence of the demonstrators. There were two of them. Howie and Arno. They started at the front of the hotel, hanging their banners on the barricades that had been erected to keep demonstrators at bay. Everyone who arrived had to pass by them, so they were noticed. When their numbers swelled to three (Bernhard) they set up another operation at the back of the hotel, the lower level where people went out to lunch or take a walk. When that happened, hotel security locked the back entrance door. Security was very tight at this meeting, with the hotel lobby being constantly patrolled and access to the meeting requiring scanning an ID badge that displayed a photo. The only time it was breached was when Sidney Holt went out to visit the demonstrators. Sidney is pretty mobile for a 90 year old but he uses two sticks to walk and appreciates the occasional arm to hold on to. After his visit, Howie Cook, the eternal IWC demonstrator offered his arm to Sidney and they walked back to the hotel entrance together. They were stopped by security, and surrounded. After a protest by Howie about the cruelty of not letting an old man in with a little help they were admitted, and walked together across the lobby. Unnoticed at first by security because the evidence was on his back, Howie was wearing a Sea Shepherd t-shirt! It was the only time Sea Shepherd breached the meeting, though their presence was felt, both in the Safety at Sea session and in one of the demo banners. One day there was even a sailboat stationed offshore that had hoisted a Sea Shepherd sail. I’m not sure what happened to it, as it was only there on that one day. Probably chased or towed away. Out of sight out of mind. Ha. In the old and not so old days, when there were dozens, sometimes hundreds of demonstrators, even a giant inflatable whale, the scene was bigger, louder, rowdier, cars honking, voices raised, a battle joined. Where has all that passion gone? Truth be told, the whales have yet to be saved.
I’m on my way home, on board a Lufthansa plane in Trieste, headed for Munich then Toronto Vancouver and Alert Bay. I am pissed off (excuse the language) mad about the outcome of this meeting, mad at the neglect, mad at the lost opportunity, mad at the waste of time, mad at the fake camaraderie. The whales lost at every turn at this meeting, not exactly wholesale slaughter, more like death by small cuts.
Small cetaceans were the biggest losers. I know the Irawaddy dolphin will be gone before we blink; I doubt the Maui dolphin will be there to save next time we meet; and I doubt the vaquita will still exist, despite the desperate measures finally agreed to at IWC66. I say agreed to but that wasn’t really so. When the emergency vaquita resolution finally came to the floor on Friday, the last of this grim affair, Japan read out a long list of countries besides itself that were so, so sympathetic to the vaquita plight that they could not oppose the resolution, but still would not participate in a collective effort to save this beauty *. Hanging the vaquita out to dry, dropping it off a high cliff with no parachute are images that come to mind. What on Earth do Joji Morishita and his cronies not understand about the word extinction? I suppose I should use Japan not Morishita and it, not him, but truth be told, he personifies the enemy. Politeness yes, but not more. I’m thinking that it might be better to have Morishita as the Chair at the next meeting because his stiletto like mind will not immediately be available to Japan on the floor, and in his role as Chair he will have to be fair, or at least appear to be fair.
The Chair this time, Switzerland’s Bruno Mainini also attempted to be fair, and except for one glaring exception for the most part accomplished that. The exception came at the end of Day Four. Bruno had been instrumental in giving NGOs a voice, unheard of before him at the IWC though common in other international fora such as CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). This time, he allowed NGOs to speak freely, time permitting, until almost the end of Day Four. The topic was IWC communications with other international organizations. Whale and Dolphin Conservation’s Carolina Cassini started to read a prepared statement on behalf of numerous NGOs about Japan’s violation of the CITES prohibition of trade in whale products, referring to sales of whale meat and other whale bits by a Japanese on line retailer. You can have your order for pretty much anything that comes from whales killed for research shipped to you anywhere in the world and paid for in Yen, US dollars, pounds or Euros. Probably any currency will do. Caro’s statement produced consternation among Japan’s delegation, many of whom were clearly agitated, and Bruno cut her off, telling her to keep her comments short. Caro started again, but didn’t get far before Bruno cut her off again. She had about 2 lines to go, but that was it. Over. It was hard to know whether Bruno had responded to a non verbal Japanese complaint, but everyone noticed what he had done. Given his tolerance of a previous very long intervention by an IGO (intergovernmental organization) on the topic, Bruno’s action was patently unfair. Later, he apologized. The irony of the incident was that WDC’s story about Japan cheating on CITES rules got noticed, a big accomplishment in this somnolent room.
For decades, Norway has gotten clean away with killing more whales than anyone else. Its done so again, by keeping its head down and barely saying a word except No or Yes according to Japan’s script. Why is not a puzzle. It’s because Norway is rich and can thumb its nose at the world. It is a European country but refuses to join the European Union. Norway first got rich off whale oil. That was way before North Sea oil came along, making it even richer. Today, giant blue whale jawbones stand as sentinels at the entrance to Sandefjord’s richest estates (Sandefjord being Norway’s whaling capital). Mute testaments to the past. No words need be said. And that’s what we’ve got from Norway at this meeting. No words. None needed. Just business as usual.
Why is there no outrage? Not just about Norway. There’s a long list, for me starting with the Maui dolphin. I think it must be because I’m a New Zealander and still hold great affection for my homeland, but New Zealand’s treatment of the Maui dolphin is in a word, disgraceful. I realize that New Zealand’s IWC Commissioner is a first timer in this forum, but she is reading from the same script we heard last time, and the time before that. We are monitoring the situation. Deathspeak. Just 53 Maui dolphins are left alive, proof that the monitoring is precise. Outrageous. Fists should be raised, voices hurled, but nothing by way of protest is heard in the room: Just a polite, thank you New Zealand. I am speechless. New Zealand, so good on so many issues that affect the welfare of whales is here blatantly hypocritical about the fate of this critically endangered dolphin in its own waters. The Maui dolphin only occupies a small ocean space. Why are gill nets not completely banned? Why are seismic air guns not silenced?
It’s not as if whales do not have great allies and defenders here. They do. Chief among them besides Monaco are the Latin American countries, members of the “BA” group, BA for Buens Aires where Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Columbia, Panama, Costa Rica and Mexico came together to form a bloc that is the most vocal and persistent ally of whales in this room. They are impressive, well prepared and will not concede, not even about a violation of the rules on aboriginal whaling by Greenland most IWC members want to sweep under the rug. In 2013 and 2014 Greenland hunters killed whales without an IWC quota. Under IWC rules this was an infraction, but Denmark, which represents Greenland at the IWC refuses to acknowledge it. The problem came about because a Greenland quota was not agreed at the 2012 IWC meeting in Panama, and Greenland went ahead anyway. I doubt whether anyone disputed the need for Greenland’s aboriginal people to hunt for food, but what happened was still an infraction. All it would have taken to settle the issue was Denmark (Greenland) acknowledging and apologizing, possibly with a promise not to do it again. That did not happen, so the issue drags on.
Time and again, Brazil and Argentina supported by their BA compatriots have introduced a proposal to make the South Atlantic Ocean a sanctuary. Time and again they have been denied. Yet they press on, meeting every defeat with new determination. Next time, in 2018 they will be on their own turf, so they will have home court advantage. We will see whether that will be enough to push them over the ¾ majority line, but I have a feeling the tide will change, and South Atlantic whales will be protected at last. Besides, I am quite sure that more than 3 demonstrators for whales will show up next time, and that will help.
As the meeting drew to a close on Friday, Luxembourg’s Commissioner Pierre Gallego brought a light moment to the room, announcing a tie competition. Photos of 13 ties worn by male delegates were displayed on the screen. Only ladies were allowed to vote. At one point in the voting, Russia was cited for cheating, bringing laughter. The result was close, but Japan’s assistant Commissioner won with his Moby Dick tie. Symbolic.
Where do we go from here? Fortunately, there is a way forward. An Ethical Ban on commercial whaling. The idea comes from Paul Gouin, one of the architects of the moratorium on commercial whaling that was agreed by the IWC in 1982. Paul disappeared from the IWC scene for decades after this victory for whales, but like me has resurfaced. His point is a great one. We now know so much about whales – their brains, their sentience, their societies and cultures – that it is virtually a no brainer that we should not be killing them. So let’s stop. Period.
Over the next years, we’ll see where this idea leads. It will take just two countries to propose an Ethical Ban on commercial whaling and put it on the agenda for the 2018 meeting in Brazil, as a resolution. Aboriginal and subsistence whaling will be exempted, but the proposal will be that all commercial whaling is banned, permanently. It may take a few rounds to accomplish this, but I do believe that day will come. Peace in the oceans, at last.
By Paul Spong,
October 31, 2016
* Antigua & Barbuda, Benin, Cambodia, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Eritrea, Ghana, Grenada, Guinea, Iceland, Japan, Kenya, Kiribati, Laos, Mauritania, Mongolia, Morocco, Nauru, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & The Grenadines, Russian Federation, Suriname, Tanzania, Togo, Tuvalu.